The Lunch Date Pt. 7.8

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  
Read Part 7.3 here Read Part 7.4 here
Read Part 7.5 here Read Part 7.6 here
Read Part 7.7 here

The quietness of the neighborhood, once one the things he liked the most about the location of the house, now weighed on Max’s spirit. It was 4pm and he had just finished a twelve hour shift. Bloomfeld-Hyman Pediatric Surgical Center  where he worked was located in Chicago’s downtown area. This meant that there was always noise, if not from the busy hospital, then from the bustling city in which it was located. He was never alone with his thoughts when he was at work, which was good, because his thoughts were not the best company these days. When he returned home, however, it was an exercise in creativity to avoid them. He had worked out; pounding out miles on the treadmill in the basement until he was weak with exhaustion, and then lifted weights to further seal the deal. After a warm shower, he’d lain down, hoping to fall asleep. But the silence of the house and its surroundings, instead of providing peace, hung like an ominous cloud which would rain down unwanted thoughts and reflections. The silence was almost  passive aggressive, like the religious fanatic aunt who obviously disapproved of some aspect of your lifestyle but instead of talking to you about it, gave you the silent treatment, accompanied by baleful looks which eventually pushed you to confront her, after which she spoke non stop, quoting the bible copiously. 

Max chuckled at that image, rolling over to press his face into the pillow. Anything to keep his thoughts at bay. They overwhelmed him and made him feel out of control. It was not a feeling he enjoyed. He made himself think about the scripture this imaginary aunt would quote if she was present to comment on his predicament. Would she advocate a divorce? Sexual immorality was the only reason provided in the New Testament to justify a divorce and there had been enough of that between him and Iya. Perhaps she would encourage them to work things out, just as his mother had. Max cringed as he thought about the conversation he’d had with his parents the day before. When he’d come out of surgery and seen the missed call from his mother, he had known with absolute certainty that the news of his alleged activities had reached her ears. 
As it turned out, some enterprising soul had posted pictures of the recent scholarship award ceremony he and Iya had attended, to Fako Nation, the Facebook group maintained by Bakweri people at home and in the diaspora. Underneath a picture of him, a member had made an innocuous comment about the need to show respect for the trailblazers in the community, referencing Joan’s behavior at the ceremony and the subsequent rumors she’d started with her claims. That had devolved into a heated debate with people siding with Joan and others with him. A cousin of his in Limbe had been showing his mother the pictures on his phone and they had wondered why there were so many comments underneath that particular picture. 
When he had called her back, his mother, never one to beat around the bush had asked him directly if he had cheated on Iya. He had confessed, unable to lie to her.
“Max,” she had said, her voice stern with censure  “I know the son I raised and I know that I raised an honorable man. So, please explain to me why I feel like I am talking to a stranger right now. I have you on speakerphone and your father is here. “
Seated in his car, in the parking lot of the hospital, he had told his parents the whole story, starting with what had happened to Iya at Cornell, up until his last conversation with Mabel. When he finished their stunned silence had reverberated across the thousands of miles. The silence had continued for a couple of minutes then he’d heard sniffling and his mother’s muffled voice. They had obviously taken him off speaker phone. His father murmured something in return causing his mother to snap something at him. Then his father’s voice, clearer than what speaker phone would allow, gentle with concern.
“Are you OK, son?”
“I’ll be lying if I said I am fine, daddy.”
“I understand.”
“Your…er.. your mother says she will talk to you later.”
Another awkward silence ensued.
“Is Iya alright?”
“I honestly don’t know, daddy. We mostly avoid each other these days when she is in town. She’s been travelling for work and spends more time in New York.”
“With him,” his father stated.
Max sighed.
“Yes. With him”
More silence. In the background, Max could hear the opening jingle for Luncheon Date, the afternoon news program broadcast on Cameroon’s national radio network. His father listened to it religiously. He could picture him now, seated in their modestly furnished living room, waiting for his lunch.
“So, what are you planning to do?”
“I honestly do not know, daddy.”
“Do you still want to be married to her?”
“She’s my wife.  The only woman I have ever loved in my life. My best friend.”
“Is she or was she?”
His father’s question had hung unanswered between them. When his father had realized no answer was forthcoming, he had pressed on.
“And this other woman, your colleague. What do you plan to do about her?”
Max sighed again.
“I don’t know…”
“Maxwell, everyone makes mistakes in life. Allowing those mistakes to perpetuate, is another matter. Do not let you and Iya’s problems turn you into a man you will not be proud of becoming.”
“Daddy, it’s complicated.”
“It certainly sounds complicated and it will only get more complicated the longer you allow this to continue.”
Silence stretched between them again.
“Things were once…complicated between your mother and I.”
His father’s quietly spoken words had stunned Max.
“You must have been around 3 years old. It was during the time I worked in Yaounde. Being away from your mother was hard… I was young and stupid. Which really is no excuse but it really is the only reason.”  Godfrey Litumbe heaved a deep sigh of his own. “For the two years I was there,” he continued “I had someone. One of the secretaries at the Ministry. I tried to be discreet about it but your mother eventually found out. By that time the girl was pregnant. She thought I would leave your mother for her, since she was pregnant. I may have led her to believe that too. I was that selfish. But in the end I couldn’t. I told her she could have the baby and I would take care of it and her, but that I would not leave my wife and family. She was about six months pregnant by then. She tried to commit an abortion and bled to death. The baby didn’t make it either.”
“Oh my God…daddy…” Max muttered, his heart pounding in his chest. His father had always been his hero. A role model he felt he could always count on to do the right thing. This was the very last thing he expected to hear. 
“Knowing the way pregnant and unmarried women are treated and still telling that woman that I was not going to leave my wife and marry her, was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. But I did it because it was the right thing to do. Your mother deserved better. You deserved better. After that episode, your mother and I almost divorced, anyway. She felt betrayed and rightly so. But we decided to work on it. We communicated better, our marriage got better.”
There was another pause. Then his father continued.
“I don’t know what the right thing to do is in your case. I wish I did, but I don’t. I’d love for you and Iya to work on things but you best  know what is and isn’t possible. What I do know is that this current state of confusion is not the right one. You and Iya are adults. You answer to no one but yourselves and your consciences, ultimately.”
His mother had called him a couple of hours later.
“You spoke with your father?” Her voice had sounded strained.
“I did, mum.”
“I didn’t want him after that mad girl killed that poor baby.” She continued. “His hands were stained by the most innocent of blood. I wanted to take you and just go back to my parents. But I had to remember that underneath that ugly stranger, there was the man I had married. The Godfrey Litumbe who had made me the happiest girl in Limbe when he asked me to marry him. Just as I have to remember that underneath the ugly story you just told me, is the innocent and brilliant girl I know to be Iya Malafa. The girl you married with my blessing. I have to remember also, that the man who took a woman to his bed, a woman he had no intention of staying with, a woman who became a convenience, I have to remember that this man is my own son.”
“Mummy…” Max had begun to speak but she had cut him off.
“You sit quiet and listen to me, Maxwell. My heart is broken. Broken for Iya, broken for you. But broken things can be fixed if the person who breaks them wants them to be fixed. Whatever your decision, please remember that broken things can be fixed.”
That had ended that conversation.
He had known he had to talk to Mabel. He had to come clean, tell her he could not give her any of the things she wanted, not because he was going back to Iya, but because he didn’t love her enough. She had been ignoring his calls and texts so he’d made his way over to her floor after his shift ended. Marcia had given him an odd look when he entered the suite.
“Don’t tell me you miss me so much you plan to keep coming around here to bless us with your good looking behind.” There was a mocking note in her thick southern accent.
Max had  smiled as charmingly as he could manage.
“Marcia, you know you are and have always been the only reason I come around these parts.”
“Mmm hmmm.” she’d huffed with a neck and eye roll. “Well, your other reason is on vacation now, but she ain’t returnin’. Word is she didn’t renew her contract when it came up for review last week. I’d have thought you would know, y’all being from the same country and all. I thought you was all close.”
Max had only stared at her in shock. She’d stared back at him unfazed, then given a pointed look at the wedding ring he still wore. With a raised eyebrow, she’d lifted the mug of tea she always had available, sipped from it and turned her gaze to her computer screen. Seconds later, she was tapping away.
He’d been dismissed.
Mabel was gone and Marcia, the only person who could have told him where to find her, was angry.
A soft footstep interrupted his thoughts. He looked up from the bed and Iya stood in the doorway of their bedroom.  He’d been so lost in his thoughts he hadn’t heard her enter the house. Her overnight bag lay at her feet and she clutched a big envelope in a grip so tight, he could see the tendons in her hand from where he lay. She looked pale and tired. She was supposed to be in New York for the next couple of days for a meeting. At least that is what her calendar which she had synchronized with his, so they both knew what the other was doing, had said. What was she doing back so early?
“I left Morrison and Roth.” 
She blurted the statement out, as if to answer his question.
“I’m going to press charges against Kyle Hammond.” She walked towards him and held out the envelope. “These are the results from my rape kit. Kyle’s mother tried to destroy them but Sebastian got them before she could.” He didn’t take the envelop so she stood there holding it between them. “I thought you should know before I contact the police and a private investigator. Kyle admitted to raping other women but none of them have come forward. I’m going to try to find them and see if I can convince them to testify.”
He still had not taken the envelope so she placed it on the bed.
“I’m willing to wait if you want to get  divorce and dissociate yourself from me before things get nasty. But I am doing this.” 

The Lunch Date Pt 7.7

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  
Read Part 7.3 here Read Part 7.4 here
Read Part 7.5 here Read Part 7.6 here

“You son of a bitch.” 

“Sebastian I – “
“You goddamn son of a bitch! What the hell was that? What in the fucking hell was that?” 
Sebastian had his father up against the now closed door of his office, his fists white with rage as they held him up by the lapels of his jacket.
“Unhand me immediately, Sebastian David Roth. Regardless of your feelings about me right now, I am still your father and you will treat me with respect.”
Sebastian pushed away from his father shaking his hands like he had just touched the worst kind of dirt. 
“You’re not my father. My father wouldn’t do what you just did. My father stopped existing the day you decided to let money dictate your sense of justice.”
Nathan Roth cut his son with a withering gaze, before walking away from the door to pour himself a glass of water from the decanter on Sebastian’s desk.
“Idealistic young fool.” He breathed as he sipped the water. “You think justice is what builds the kinds of structures we have? You think “doing the right thing” is what got this family to where were are today? You think even your sainted Grandpa Moses didn’t screw over people to achieve the things he did? I can’t believe how goddamn naive you’re being about this, Sebastian. I should never have allowed your friendship with that woman or even allowed her to come work here. She’s been a weight dragging us down all these years and it just got worse because now Morrison has that video of you two. You couldn’t wait to get into a room before shoving your dick down her throat? Jesus Christ.”
“You sure enjoyed the fact that you had something to hold  Bob Hammond by the balls with didn’t you, dad? You covered for him, so he owed you. And you kept her with the company because she was your cash cow. He knew that as long as we sort of had her loyalty, she would be quiet. You used my relationship with her to your advantage even though you refused to help her. How many contracts were eased for M & R in foreign countries because of your connection to the State Department, dad?”
“I saw an opportunity and I took it, son. It is what business men do. You stand there talking about justice yet you also kept quiet, knowing all you did. You could have convinced her to go to the cops and forced all of our hands, but you also knew we would not have won against the kind of money and power the Hammonds have so you paid for all of our sins by nursing her back to life, with a little benefit for your trouble.” Nathan Roth’s lips curled “And then you left her too didn’t you? Even you couldn’t bring yourself to tie yourself to her because you knew she was dead weight. Doesn’t belong. Didn’t belong to start with. And her usefulness is over because Bob wants her gone, refuses to do business until that happens.”
“I don’t give a shit what Bob Hammond wants.” Sebastian said through gritted teeth. “If she leaves, I leave.”
Nathan raised his eye brows at his son then chuckled.
“You overestimate your importance to this company, kid.”
“And I go to the press with my story.” Sebastian continued. “Think they’ll believe me? Oh and I have the rape kit Carol Hammond tried to destroy. The moment Iya told me she’d been to the hospital, I had Jake go down to the lab and exchange the kit. Cost two grand but the lab tech was more than happy to hand it over. I paid for my own analysis and it was easy enough getting Kyle’s hair for DNA analysis and matching. Jake is also willing to testify. He was there that night. He helped me get Iya to the hospital. Ever wonder why he no longer visits? The only thing keeping me from speaking is Iya’s silence, but as you so rightly pointed out, I could convince her to come forward right?”
Nathan Roth was pale, his jaw clenched so hard the veins stood out on his face.
“You wouldn’t dare…”
“Try me, Dad. Try me.” Sebastian laughed mirthlessly “You will tell Bob Hammond this arrangement is over. You will tell Kyle Hammond to watch his step. You will tell the whole bucket of slime that is that family to back the fuck off and leave Iya alone. And you will pray the stunt you just pulled isn’t the last straw for her or we are all going down. Every single one of us.”
Sebastian left his father in his office and made his way over to Iya’s office, hoping she was in there and that she was alright. His watch told him the company lunch would be starting in about ten minutes but he had no intention of attending. 
The first thing he noticed when he stepped into her office was the glass on the floor. 
He saw her jacket tossed over the back of her chair, her pearls on the floor, her shoes. Then he heard sounds from her bathroom and walked in that direction.
Blood on the floor. Deep red globs in a scattered line towards the bathroom.
“Babe?” He rushed to the door, knocking even though he wanted to push it open. “Can I come in?”
“Go away Sebastian.” The rawness in her voice was evident even through the closed doors. 
“I can’t. You need to let me in. I saw the blood. I need to know you’re OK.”
No response. He tried the handle. The door was locked.
“Go away, Sebastian.” She repeated. 
“I’m not leaving this door until I know you are fine, Iya.”
More silence.
He stood there quietly.
Minutes later, the door opened. Iya stepped out wearing a different suit than she’d been wearing earlier. She smelled like lavender  which meant she’s just showered. Her make up was freshly applied. It didn’t hide her red swollen eyes. In her hands she held a bath towel. Cradled it almost reverently.
“Have you come to ask for forgiveness, Sebastian? Or perhaps to explain why you didn’t tell me this was going to happen today, because there is no way you didn’t know.”
“I only found out this morning, Iya, and I wanted to tell you in person but I never got the chance.”
Her shoulders fell a little as if someone had taken the air out of her.
“You knew…” She whispered. “You knew he was going to do that, bring them here but you couldn’t even text or call me?”
“Wait! What? No!” He sputtered. “I didn’t know about the Hammonds. I knew about your promotion but everything else took me by surprise too. I can’t believe you thought I’d do that to you.”
He took a step towards her and tried to pull her into his arms. She shrank away from him.
“Did you know he went after other girls? Black girls?”
Sebastian’s eyes widened in shock, his face went pale. She saw his shock and knew that this was news to him too. She nodded shakily.
“He must have covered his tracks well then. Made sure none of them ever tried to come forward.”
They were both silent as they processed the information. She stared down at the towel in her hands, her eyes haunted.
“He went after them because of me.” Her voice broke as she struggled with tears. “Because they reminded him of me. He raped all those women because of me. They protected him and he just kept right on at it. They destroyed those women’s lives. “
“Iya…Baby… I am so fucking sorry…”
“Are you? Well you should be.” 

A sense of deja vu swept over Sebastian. He felt like he was in the hospital again with Iya standing before him in her hospital gown.

“I’m leaving M & R. I cannot work for your family after this. It’s been made clear to me whose side they are on. And I’m calling my lawyer to figure out what I need to do have charges filed again against Kyle Hammond. I read somewhere that there is no statute of limitation but I don’t know what will happen since I dropped the charges back then. I also need to find these other women, perhaps I can get them to file reports if I offer them some protection.”

She lifted the bundled up towel towards him and reflexively he reached out to take it. “Maybe it was going to happen, anyway or maybe the stress got to me. But I lost the baby today. Our baby.”
Sebastian’s heart broke into hundreds of tiny pieces.
Read part 7.8 here

The Lunch Date Pt 7.6

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  
Read Part 7.3 here Read Part 7.4 here
Read Part 7.5 here



Kyle’s smile, which did nothing to hide his pleasure at her fear, Sebastian’s possible betrayal, the likely meaning of the increasingly painful cramps and the warm trickle of blood she could feel inching it’s way down her thigh sent a thrill of energy coursing through Iya’s body. It electrified her, melting away her fear and replacing it with a rage so pure, so righteous it was the cleanest emotion she had ever felt. Her heart beat so loud she could almost hear the sound. Her hands shook from her effort to keep herself from marching over to where he stood and hitting him as hard as she could.

Iya decided at that moment that she was done being afraid. Done being a victim. Kyle, his family had taken her innocence and shredded it to bits like used tissue. She had lived so many years in terror of them and even when that terror had muted to a dim rumble in the background, the consequences of their actions remained an unending ripple through her life, upsetting everything in its path, her marriage, her job and now her baby.

No more.

“Kyle, how nice to see you.” Her voice remained calm, her gaze steady and unflinching.

He looked around the office, noting her carelessly discarded jacket, the pearls on the floor and her shoes haphazardly kicked to a corner. His smile spread.

“Looks like you were in the middle of something…?” 

She didn’t answer immediately, choosing instead to examine him. He was a handsome man no doubt and he had aged well.  At about 6 feet, he still looked trim and fit. He filled out his suit with muscles that were neither too bulky nor too stringy. His tanned skin glowed with health, his hair still dark brown and full, no grey strands and no sign of receding. His hazel eyes with their thick lashes would have been strikingly beautiful, if not for the maleficence they now gleamed with. In another life she may have found him attractive. She had found him attractive. Right now, he was the singular object of her disgust. She would not give him the satisfaction of hearing her lie to cover up her discomfiture.

“I was actually,” her smile was brittle, a mere stretching of her lips without the expected accompanying warmth . “I wasn’t expecting to spend my lunch with a rapist and his disgusting family. Knocked the wind out my sails quite a bit.”

She walked over to her desk and sat down in her chair, grateful for the imposing size of her furniture. Sitting down offered some reprieve from the pain and ensured that there was no way he would notice if her bleeding increased. Him standing up and her sitting behind her desk also changed the dynamic in the room. No longer was she the panicking woman he’d hoped to intimidate. She was an executive, in her office. In control. He had come in to ask for her time, which she could deny him the pleasure of. He noticed what she had done and smirked at her.

“Come on now, Iya. I remember our little escapade differently.” He walked over to stand in front of her desk, then leaned forward to invade her space.  “You spent that whole evening clinging to me like a scared rabbit. Completely out of place, grateful that someone was paying attention to you. Then you saw the looks the other girls there were giving you because I stayed with you and it pleased you that they were jealous of you. Because I wanted you. Think I didn’t notice the way you looked at me? Smiled at me when I brought you drinks? But you were too shy to openly say you wanted me so I helped you along. And you liked it. You loved it. Don’t you remember, Iya? You came. Over and over and over. It was fucking beautiful. The most perfect thing I have ever seen in my life. “

Familiar feelings of guilt and shame warred within Iya. She had been grateful for his company that night and had been dazzled by the  attention he gave her. Heck, she might have said yes had he come on to her. But she had not asked to be drugged so much she almost died from the overdose. She had not wanted the orgasms he had forced from her body or any of the shame and pain and guilt that had been her constant companion after that night.

“You know what’s really funny, Kyle? I actually was quite taken by you that night. I mean, here I was, this hick from Cameroon being romanced, it felt like, by Kyle Hammond of all people. Senator Hammond’s son.  The Kyle Hammond who made every female heart in Dr. Mardsen’s Contemporary American Writers class beat double time when he walked in. Adelaide and I used to laugh about it.”

A particularly strong cramp sent a shot of pain through her  causing her to gasp. It was followed by more warm wetness between her thighs.  Her eyes watered, the tears both for the physical pain and the cruelness of fate which had led her to this moment where she sat here losing her baby while the man who had raped her waxed nostalgic about the good time they had together. She faced him with tears flowing down her face, her gaze not wavering from his as she spoke.

“But you know what you did was wrong. You know what happened between us did not happen because I wanted it. You know that those orgasms were not from me enjoying myself. You can try to tell yourself otherwise and you may even believe yourself, but you know. Your mother knows too. That is why she came to my hospital room and threatened me. The Roths do too. Everyone who knows what happens knows you are a rapist. You know what else, Kyle? The state of New York has no statute of limitation on first degree rape or criminal sexual acts or aggravated sexual abuse in the first degree, all of which happened that night. For someone about to run for public office I’d be careful about throwing my weight around if I were you. I’m no longer the scared 17 year old you or your family can terrify into silence.”

The bastard smirked at her.

“You think you can touch me? Your rape kit was destroyed before you left the hospital and none of the others ever dared to go to the police after they knew what happened to you.”

None of the others. There were others?

The question must have been evident on her face because he laughed again. 

“There is something about seeing a woman climax when she really doesn’t want to but can’t help it. You wouldn’t play with me anymore so I had to find other sweet brown skinned goddesses who reminded me of you, to play with.”

There had been other girls. Girls he had targeted because they looked like her. Girls he had been able to target because she had never pressed charges against him. Something broke inside of Iya. 

“Get out.” She said, her vision clouding with tears of rage. “Get out! GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY OFFICE YOU MONSTER !”

She grabbed the nearest thing she could reach, a glass paper holder molded to look like a seashell and threw it at him.

He casually leaned to the side as the object sailed past his head and crashed on the wall, breaking into shards. Mission accomplished, he strolled out of the office.

“See you at lunch, Iya.”

Read Part 7.7 here

The Lunch Date Pt 7.4

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
          Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  Read Part 7.3 here
“Yekouni, I am dying.”
“Yes mama.” Mabel’s voice was hoarse from crying. It sounded small to her ears, weak.
“You will go and stay with Tata Bernadette and finish upper sixth. She has the money I have saved for you and she will sell the house to add to those funds. Make sure you prepare for your A Levels. You must pass and pass very well. I have spoken with Uncle Dieudonné. He has already started looking for a school for you in America. The money I have will cover all your tuition for maybe a year, so you must get scholarships. Listen carefully and do everything Dieudonné  tells you to do when the time comes. He works for a school there so he will know.”
Mabel nodded silently.
“I don’t want you in this country after upper sixth. You must make sure you leave. People know about my illness and those stories will continue to follow you. Serge will also make sure you can’t get a good job here, he is vindictive. I am also afraid of his people. So leave. Go to America and don’t ever come back here. Promise me that.”
“I promise, Mama.” 
“Good. When you go there, study something substantial. I’m not going to tell you what to do. You are smart and you can do anything you put your mind to. Whatever you choose make sure it results in a real job that pays you well.”
Beatrice Mbemba paused to cough. The hollow, hacking sound continued for the next ten minutes and her emaciated form shook so violently with each gasp, Mabel feared she would break. Tuberculosis was a hard disease. Tuberculosis made worse by HIV was a harsher combination. Mabel rubbed her mother’s back and held the folded towel up to her lips as she coughed. The pristine white of the towel was soon speckled with the telltale greenish yellow blood streaked phlegm. The coughing subsided but Beatrice continued to wheeze, struggling to fill her lungs with air. It was a horrible sound, desperate and hollow. Almost a death rattle. Mabel fought back tears as she murmured reassuringly to her mother.
The portable oxygen concentrator Dieudonné, her mother’s brother, had sent from America lay unused in a corner. It had been like a gift sent from heaven when it had arrived, helping Beatrice to breathe a little easier even as the deadly virus ravaged her body. But it had malfunctioned and no one had been able to repair it. Dieudonné  was going to send another one but Beatrice had refused. She’d asked him to save that money for Mabel, who would need his help after her death. 
The wheezing eventually subsided and Beatrice sank back into her pillows. Mabel cleanedher mother’s face and discarded the towel into the bucket of bleach kept in the room. She washed her hands  and then brought a glass of water  to her mother. The routine was one she had performed hundreds of times in the last months. Beatrice  sipped at the water gratefully. When she could speak again, her words pulled startled laughter out of Mabel.
“All my life, I dreamed of  a life where I didn’t have to do anything but lay in bed and be tended to, head to toe like a queen. Who knew all I had to do all along was get AIDS?”
“Mama… Don’t make jokes like that” Mabel said, smiling in spite of her bitterness and crushing sorrow. She sat down again next to her mothers reclining form and fixed the sheet covering her, tucking the edges in around the frail body that once used to be lush and full. A blanket would have been too heavy for the Douala heat. seeping in from outside despite the efforts of the ceiling fan. They had turned off the air conditioning to save money.
“But if I don’t, how else will I see your beautiful smile, my darling daughter? I love your smile. So like your grandmothers. I don’t want you to lose that smile, Yekouni.”
“How can I smile,Mama? How can I smile?” The tears that she had been fighting spilled down her face. She buried her face in the crook of her mothers arm, careful to be gentle. The lesions on Beatrice’s body had spread as her condition declined. The doctor had said that this was a sign that her immune system was already severely compromised.  “You are dying Mama. How can I smile?”
“I know, my sweet  baby. I know. And I am so sorry you have to see me go like this. I wish I could change all the decisions I took that led me here. But I can’t.”
“You did what you had to do to survive, Mama.” Mabel said her voice hard.  “…and you were faithful. He is the one who slept with all those other girls and then blamed it on you.”
Serge, her mother’s lover, had refused to pay for antiretroviral therapy even though his position as director general of the Cameroonian branch of a H.W Telecom a South African company providing 4G mobile technology to Cameroons elite, meant that he could easily afford them. He had accused Beatrice of infecting him with the virus, conveniently ignoring his predilection for the underage prostitutes whose presence in Douala and Yaounde was an increasing source of concern in those cities. So sure was he of his conviction, he’d carried out a vicious but private campaign of vengeance on her.
Beatrice was not a stupid woman. She had used her connection to Serge to build cyber cafes which used 4G in Douala, Yaounde and Buea. She had also started a mobile phone retailing business of her own, importing the latest models of phones, tablets and accessories to sell. The profits from those ventures was what had enabled her to live relatively easy, take care of her family and send her daughter to the best schools she could afford. It was also what had enabled her to purchase the treatments for herself after her disease was diagnosed. Business had dried up, Serge having cut her out of the 4G deal and blacklisted her among her suppliers. Soon enough, Beatrice had decided to stop purchasing treatments and save the money she would have been spending to secure her daughters future.
“I am the one who stayed with him even after I knew about his indiscretions. I am the one who stayed even though it was clear he would never marry me or love me like I loved him.” There was sadness in Beatrice’s voice. She had loved Serge deeply despite his faults. And the contracts he had sent her way had meant the difference between a miserable life and one with some promise for her and her daughter.
Her mother had named her Mabel to respect the wishes of her father, who had liked the name. But she had stopped using the name, reverting instead to the name she had given, the name which was her own mother’s name. Mabel suspected it was because using the name her father had chosen reminded Beatrice of her first love who had died in a car accident on the famously deadly Tiko-Douala road ,when Mabel was barely a toddler. 
 “Yes, Mama?”
“You have to promise me one more thing.” Beatrice made sure her daughter was looking her straight in the eyes before she spoke. 
“They say a woman’s virginity is the most precious thing she has. That virtue is an organ put between your legs by biology and its functions, all of them, are pure biology and nothing else. The most precious thing you have is your trust, your devotion, your unconditional love. Don’t give it away lightly. Don’t ever trust a man to take care of you. Never make yourself that vulnerable. I don’t care how much you love him or what promises he makes or what he has. You must always be able to stand by yourself. Don’t ever give a man control over your life. Ever. Until he has proven himself worthy beyond doubt, do not change an inch of who you are to accommodate him and even then, it has to be give and take.”
Beatrice paused to cough again and Mabel tended to her gently, repeated the familiar routine. When Beatrice could speak, she continued.
“Be happy, my child. Live your life fearlessly. There are risks you must take but always be careful. Do not lose yourself for anything or anyone. And not for love. Especially not for love.”
“Yes, mama.”
Beatrice had taken her daughter’s hand  in hers and held it silently. The gesture communicated everything else she wanted to say but could not say given how exhausted the incessant  coughing had made her. The room remained silent, the whirling fan and crickets outside being the only noises Mabel could hear. Her mother had chosen Bali in Douala to build her home because it was quieter and respectable enough to shield her from the busier commercial neighborhoods but was not as expensive to live in, as Bonapriso where all the foreigners and richer Cameroonians live. She was grateful for the silence now. She felt so tired. So tired. Aside from her aunt Bernadette who stopped by to check in on her, she had  assumed all responsibility for the care of her mother after she had been discharged from the Laquintinie Hospital – sent home to die because she could no longer afford to stay in the hospital. Night and day, she tended her mother, watched over her. Talked with her, bathed her, fed her, watched her wither away, dying slowly but surely as the virus given to her by the man she loved, the man who had refused to help her in her time of greatest need, destroyed her body.
I will never love a man who cannot be there for me one hundred percent. Mabel swore to herself even as her eyes fluttered and her body gave into her exhaustion.  I will never love someone who would not give me back everything I give him. Never.
Her mother’s hand was stone cold when she woke up the next morning.
Mabel came awake from the dream, which was more a memory than a dream, with a sob. Her chest weighed down with the heaviness of a loss so deep her sorrow and heart break was still plunging to find the depths.
Her promise to her mother echoed in her mind.
She knew then what she had to do. 

Read Part 7.5 here

St. Scholastica

I wish I could just go back home.  Schola thought to herself. Why did mum insist I go to school today of all days? She had been sitting in the toilets for the last 15 minutes trying not to cry. From the first day she walked into her 11 grade class the whispers had followed her. It wasn’t just that she was currently one of just about five black students who attended St. Patrick’s Preparatory School, a school which had to be the cream of the crop of private schools in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Evanston, she was also African. African with an atrociously long name. The curious stares of her classmates had changed to snickers when they heard her name. 

Ngengenenge Scholastica Mbaya-Nfor. 

The name was irredeemable. During her first week of school she had tried to think of ways she could shorten it.  That had proven unsuccessful. Her name was a mess of double consonants that were simply beyond the linguistic ability of the staff and students of her school, it seemed. Even her Christian name was no better. She wished her devoutly Roman Catholic grandmother had picked another name. Elizabeth, maybe. Then she could just be Liz, or Beth. But she was Scholastica. After trying and tripping over Ngengenenge countless times, her teachers and school mates had taken to calling her Scholastica, almost always accompanied by the barely suppressed laughter. She’d quickly started referring to herself as Schola. The name had caught on and she’d just started to develop a thick skin to the ridicule. Then Ebola epidemic happened.

Suddenly, she was now Schola-bola. She heard the name whispered in the halls as she walked to her locker. It didn’t matter to the students that she was from Cameroon, a country not anywhere near the current hot zones. She was African and that is all they needed to know. It also didn’t help that she’d just arrived the US from Cameroon, that summer. Being newly arrived meant an added layer of perceived threat. Her classmates shied away from her and even Kate, her lab partner for chemistry, who Schola considered her only friend had begun to act funny. She probably thought Schola hadn’t noticed that when they were in chemistry lab, she constantly wiped down their work surface with acetone, even when there had been no spills.  

When Schola had told her mother what was happening, her mother told her to develop a thick skin. 

People in this country will always find something to accuse you off as long as you’re not from here,” she had said. “You have to learn to live with it.”

 Her mother would know. She was a Gynecologist/Obstetrician and was currently embroiled in a malpractice lawsuit. A patient of hers had died during childbirth and even though all indications pointed to the fact that the patient was a high risk patient: a woman in her late 40’s with un-diagnosed cardiac disease which the autopsy had revealed, she had also been the wife of a wealthy Evanston investment banker who had lost a wife and an unborn baby. The husband was deep in grief and had even deeper pockets. He was convinced that her mother’s incompetence – stemming from the fact that she had completed her medical education in Cameroon and not in the US – was the reason why his wife had died.

This morning, Schola had woken up with an itchy nose and throat. When this happened to her back in Cameroon, it usually meant within the course of the day she would develop a runny nose, start sneezing and possibly a fever and a head ache too. She had begged her mother not to let her go to school but her mother had been convinced she was just trying to get out of going to school and had refused to listen to her explanations. Schola had asked her to call her grandmother in Cameroon, who had raised her while her mother tried to get into a residency program and establish herself as a doctor in the US. Mama knew Schola’s aches and pains well and would have confirmed her claims, but her mother had refused adamantly. Schola had donned her uniform and tried to keep her tears at bay as her mother drove her to school. Surely enough, she’d begun sneezing and blowing her nose during English class and predictably, her classmates had acted like she was patient zero for the Ebola apocalypse.

She’d excused herself and made for the bathrooms, where she now sat. She heard the bell go off for lunch time and then the rush of footsteps and animated sounds of students leaving class. She wondered how long she could stay in the bathrooms before someone would notice she was missing. The door opened and girls poured into the toilets. Snippets of conversations swirled around her. The conversations ranged in topic but they were mostly about boys, peppered with “ohmigawds” and “totally” and “Snapchat” and “Facebook.” Schola felt like an alien at this school. Her world was so different from theirs. By all accounts she had been born into the lap of luxury, compared to her peers back in Cameroon. Between her mother who was a doctor, her father who even though divorced from her mother, had stayed in her life showering her with gifts, and her doting grandparents, she had never wanted for anything. But the students at St. Patrick’s took luxury to another level. They vacationed in the South of France, their parents had homes in exotic locations around the world and even owned private jets. Even their pencils had some designer label attached to them. Their conversations sounded like the conversations of regular American teenagers until you realized that the “Uncle Larry” the girl next to you was talking about was actually Larry Page of Google fame.

Schola wished for her days at G.B.H.S Bamenda. At G.B, as they had fondly referred to their school, it would not have been so bad. She would have fit right in. Ebola would have been a minor worry to most Cameroonian students, despite the fact that the country was probably at a bigger risk for an epidemic than the US. They would have made jokes about it too, but the jokes would have been lighthearted. Less vitriolic, not intended to make anyone feel like a subhuman being – an outsider. Also, there were a few children with more complicated names than hers.  Even by Cameroonian standards, Ngengenenge was a complicated first name for a girl but she had shortened it to Ngenge and that had been easy enough for everyone. She’d caught some teasing for her English name but it was so rarely used that had not lasted long. Besides, there were Banso children with names like Hilaria, Chrysogonous, Kizito or Relindis to tease. As a very Roman Catholic tribal group, the Bansos were notorious in Cameroon for giving their children the names of saints – more esoteric the better. Coupled with the fact that regular Banso names were tongue twisters in their own right, Banso children almost always were the targets of teasing. There would be Fondzenyuys and Mbiydzenyuys. She’d actually had a classmate called Chrysogonous Ndze Mbiydzenyuy. She remembered how they had laughed at him and felt a twinge of guilt. 

I need to snap out of this. She thought to herself. The bathroom crowd had thinned out with just two other girls in the bathroom. She could hear them talking about some girl named Cheryl who apparently had herpes.  She unlocked her stall’s door and stepped up to the sink to wash her hands. The girls paused their conversation when she stepped out. She didn’t recognize them but they recognized her. One of them took an exaggerated step away as she reached for paper towels. Schola sighed deeply. Simply going to the school nurse, telling her she did not feel well and asking for permission to go home would be a better solution right now. There was no way she was sticking around to be laughed at. She dried her hands and made for the door. 

The first shot rang out as she stepped into the hallway. She watched in stunned confusion as a girl, about 5 feet away from her fell to the ground after a spray of red emanated from where her head used to be. Around her students screamed and pandemonium ensued. The shots continued and Schola stood rooted to the spot, fear and shock rendering her paralyzed as she watched the carnage unfold. He wore their school uniform. Tall and lean with wavy black hair and the glowing tanned skin of the American upper-class, he would have been just another boy in the halls, if not for the gun in his hand. The gun with which he was methodically shooting his fellow school mates as they tried to get to safety. Schola found herself counting. He fired fifteen times, and then stopped. 

The fire alarm was ringing, the water sprinklers had been automatically turned on when the alarm was pulled. It sprayed water everywhere drenching everything in the vicinity. In the distance, Schola could hear the sound of screams, running feet and doors slamming shut. Police sirens sounded in the distance. The smell of heated metal hung in the air, mixing with the equally metallic but more organic smell of blood. Around her students lay on the ground, motionless – dead or unconscious. Others rolled around groaning and crying having either been shot or trampled upon during the stampede. 

Schola stood frozen, directly opposite the killer. He slid the apparently empty clip out of the gun and put in a new one, reloading with small economical movements. She watched him, paralyzed, unable to run. It felt like a nightmare. One of those nightmares where you knew danger was imminent but you somehow found yourself unable to move. The part of her brain that had not been shut down by fear ran a commentary in her head.

He’s going to look up and see me. Then he’s going to shoot me. Why can’t I run? Why won’t my legs move? Oh my God, why can’t I move?

He finished loading and looked up his eyes locking on her. He blinked slowly, looking surprised to see her. Schola closed her eyes, tears running down her cheeks. She knew what was coming. Under her breath she began to say the Lord’s Prayer, in Cameroonian pidgin. 

Our Father, whe you live for heaven, your name must be holy, make your commandia e come for we, how you want, so e must be for ground like for heaven. Give we chop whe enough for we for this day, and excuse we bad, like we too, we excuse the people whe them do we bad, no lef we go for bad road, but move we for bad thing.

“You’re the new girl, the one from Africa,” his voice came from directly in front of her. She hadn’t heard him move. She nodded, eyes still tightly closed, still praying, now sobbing. 

“Open your eyes. I’m not going to hurt you. I promise.”

Scholastica shook her head no. She couldn’t look at him – wouldn’t look at him. His was a face that would haunt her for the rest of her life if he really let her live. She didn’t need to see it up close.

“OK. That’s alright. What’s your name?” he asked, his voice gentle.

“Ngeng – Scholastica” She managed to say between sobs.

“Scholastica,” he mused. ” A Roman Catholic saint. Twin sister of  St. Benedict of Nursia. They say she prayed and summoned a storm, so her brother would stay and talk with her. She must have been a very lonely woman.”

He paused as though waiting for her to respond. She didn’t.

“I know they laugh at you, because of Ebola. The dumb fucks don’t even realize you couldn’t possibly have the disease.”

He paused again, and then continued.

“They laugh at me too, because I am smart and I see through their entire pretense.” 

He laughed then, sounding genuinely amused. 

“They’ll never laugh at me again after this. They’ll say my name with fear and anger but they will never laugh at me again.”

Schola heard him walk away, his steps loud in the water puddles that were beginning to form from the sprinklers.

“Hey,” he called back at her. Her eyes popped open before she could stop herself and she stared into his blank grey stare. “I’m really sorry you had to witness this.”

With those words, he turned and walked away towards the cafeteria.

The Lunch Date Pt 7.3

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here


“You’ve been avoiding me…”

“Yes, I have…And you know why.”

“I needed you, Mabel.”

“You need to sort things out with your wife, Max”

“My wife?” He laughed bitterly  “I don’t have a wife. I don’t have a marriage.”

Mabel didn’t say anything. Around them, the hospital cafeteria buzzed with activity, the lunch crowd in full swing. It was about a month since she’d dodged him in her office hallway. She’d come back from the bathroom to find him gone. Marcia her receptionist, had told her that he’d been on the phone with someone then had taken off in a hurry without saying a word. She’d not followed up with him, not even wanting to get involved further in whatever was going on. She also had tried even harder to avoid him, sometimes even ignoring his calls. He’d finally cornered her today just as she left her office for lunch and insisted on talking with her. They’d walked together, making small talk about work. He’d gotten a sandwich and she a bowl of soup. They’d selected a table away from the main traffic area. Both meals now sat, forgotten in front of them.

“You’re still married, Max. That puts me in a very difficult position.”

“I talked with her, you know.” He continued. Mabel’s breath caught. What had Iya told him? Did he know they had met?

“Yeah, you told me you and her talked.” She said, trying to sound unconcerned,

“It’s so complicated…Mabes. I want to be mad at her but at the same time I cannot be mad at her.”

Mabel wrestled with her emotions. He still talked with her as though they were an item, using the nicknames he’d  formed. Under normal circumstances, this would be the point where she, the mistress, would lose her cool and accuse him of playing with her emotions, while he had no intentions of leaving his wife. But how could she? She understood perfectly why he felt conflicted. She felt conflicted.

She kept her expression neutral.

“And I’m sorry I am putting all of this on you. It’s just… you’re the only one I can really talk to about this. Anyone else would ask for explanations and I just cannot talk about it to them.”

“What makes you think I don’t want explanations?” She asked, wryly.

“I don’t know. You should want explanations. You, of all people, should be demanding explanations. But you are not.”

“No, I’m not.”  She mused softly, playing with the plastic wrapping of the cracker she’d gotten with her soup. 

“She loves him. This man she’s having affair with. She loves him. They’ve known each other since her time at Cornell and it’s his family’s company she works for. You may have heard of them, the Roths… they’re a rich Jewish family here in Chicago. They were in a relationship back then and they broke up. He married someone else and she married me even though she loves him.”

He sounded so broken. So lost. She wanted to gather him close and hold him tight. 

“I was in a bit of denial. I didn’t want to believe she would betray me like that. But then I began to notice things I had missed when I assumed that all was well between us and we were just busy with work. The distance, the emotional distance that had developed between us. Looking further back, I realize that this distance had been there since we reunited. She was with me but she was only halfway there. It wasn’t like we were before in Buea. Even knowing this, knowing that she lied to me, I still can’t be completely angry with her because she had some pretty tough choices to make herself. She’s been through so much.”
He paused, seeming to catch himself. She understood that he didn’t want to sound too sympathetic of Iya when talking to her. She didn’t say anything.

“We should get a divorce. That is the only logical resolution at this point. I won’t try to hold on to her if she doesn’t want to be with me. But even that is complicated. Someone from our village, some nurse who works here saw us – me and you, that is –  together and somehow put two and two together. She’s been talking to people in our community here and the assumption is that I am cheating on Iya. If we divorced now, I will end up with the reputation of a cheat. But I don’t want to come out and say she cheated first, that’s none of their business and it  will open a whole new can of worms. But at the same time, when my parents hear about this, they will be so disappointed. Seeing their oldest son as a successful professional who is also married and settled is a dream they’ve had for ever. I’m supposed to be setting the good example for my little brother and sister. I don’t want my family or hers for that matter to have to deal with that mess.”

“But you won’t stay with her either.” Mabel pointed out calmly. 
“No, I can’t. She doesn’t love me. I will not remain in a marriage just to keep up appearances. I want more than that. I want better than that. I’d rather be alone than have to settle for that.” 

He ran his palm over his face as though wiping away the thought of being stuck in a dead marriage. 

“My parents didn’t have a grand love story or anything but they liked each other,” he continued.  “They wanted to be with each other. You could tell by the way they interacted with each other, how they functioned as a unit. They created a family life that really laid a foundation for me and my siblings. We were happy. I could easily tell which of my friends had parents who had resigned themselves to their marriage. I always promised myself I would never settle for anything less than what my parents had , if not for myself then at least for my children.”

They sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Then Mabel spoke.

“If you are worried about your parents, you should call them yourself and tell them this. You don’t have to go into details on why you and Iya are no longer able to stay together but tell them what you just told me. Tell them what you want from your marriage and that what you and Iya have will not give you that, after all. They are your parents and they will understand or at the very least accept it, if they care about you. Let Iya decide how she breaks the news to her folks. This is her mess too and she has a role in fixing it.  The only people you, maybe, owe explanations to are your direct family. Nobody else’s opinion on your marriage counts. Let them talk if they want.”

“You don’t understand, Mabel. Iya and I…. We…. Let’s just say there are a lot of people looking up to us. People we’re going to disappoint by divorcing, especially with talk about cheating.”

Mabel sighed deeply. 

“I know, Max. But you know you’re not going to stay in the marriage and try to make it work. People will talk, no matter what. You can’t possibly factor that into this decision. Yes, they are going to be disappointed, but that is life. They will get over it. Besides, people have lives to live and their own problems you think they are going to stay focused on what issues you and Iya have? It will be a scandal for a couple of months, whispers will continue for a year or two maybe, but they will get over it, eventually. Yours is not the first nor will it be the last scandal. Things do not always work out, and we all have to go on to find other ways to stay inspired. You’re doing what is best for you, for both of you, what will leave you both happier. She’s going to be with someone she loves and who hopefully loves her back. And you…” 

Mabel paused, then fell silent.


What about him? She thought to herself. In all this talk about the end of his marriage, he hadn’t mentioned what the next steps would be for him…and certainly nothing about their relationship. There was a time when she would have let herself believe he loved her and that if things ended with Iya, it would mean they could be together but that hope had been crushed the day she had sat there and listened to him rhapsodize about Iya with his boss. Now that he knew for certain that things were over, would she still be the one he turned to? And would whatever relationship they now had last longer than however long it took for him to grieve?

“You’re right.” He said, completely oblivious to her inner turmoil. “I should talk to them. The sooner this ends the sooner everyone can get the hell over it, the sooner I can carry on with my life and Iya with hers. “

“And me, Max? What about me? Where do I fit into this plan?” 

Mabel hated the note of desperation she could hear in her voice but she needed to know if she also needed to get the hell over things and carry on with her life. Her heart sank, her fears confirmed when she saw Max look at her, his eyes widening ever so slightly, as though he had only just then realized that the woman sitting opposite him was not his therapist but his lover for the past year. His mouth opened but no words came out. 

Mabel pushed back from the table and picked up the tray containing her untouched bowl of soup. Without a word, she walked over to the trash receptacle and dumped the food out. She placed the tray on the shelf carrying stacks of dirty trays, sanitized her hands and then left the cafeteria.

Read Part 7.4 here

The Gui Chronicles 1

Lem had the dream again. She’d begun having  the dream from the day she saw her first flow, which meant she was now able to start wearing her seer stones and sit with the arobos, the tribal seers. She could now sit with them and hone her skills as one of the people chosen by Laa Gui, the Water Mother, to guide the village.

It was a strange dream and this time it was different.

It started with her in her mother’s womb, just before Laa Gui called her mother’s water. Her people the Gui believed that a child in a womb, surrounded by gui’she – the waters of life, was how Laa Gui gave the gift of life. They believed that Laa Gui formed the child in the depth of her own womb, Gui’mbe the wide expanse of water on whose shores they lived, and slowly transferred a little bit of the water and the child into the mother’s belly as the child grew. When the child was ready to live in the world, Laa Gui announced this by calling back her water which flowed out of the mother’s body, before the child came out. 

In Lem’s dream, however,  Laa Gui called her mother’s water but instead of being born into the world a screaming baby, she was born back into Gui’mbe  fully aware of who and where she was. She would spend the dream swimming under water, never surfacing for breath. She played with Laa Gui’s other children, those who still lived in her womb and either had yet to be born or were destined to stay in Gui’mbe so the Mother would not be lonely. She  learned their languages and ways, ate their foods, learned their secrets of healing. All through this, a sense of foreboding stayed in her mind. It felt as though Laa Gui was making her see and learn these things as a reminder. A reminder and a warning. Of what, she couldn’t tell.

The dream always ended in the most confusing way. She would suddenly feel the need to breathe which she hadn’t felt before, so she would swim to the surface. When she emerged from the waters, it would be dusk. Gui’mbe gleaming with the burnt orange light of  Saa Shan,  Laa Gui’s mate who ruled  Shan’mbe –the skies. Every evening  he sank into her bosom for their nightly connubial rest. As she treaded water, breathing the sweet evening air, marveling at the beauty of Saa Shan’s descent, a dark shape rose from the point where Gui’mbe and Shan’mbe met.

Moving slowly, it would grow and grow till it became fully visible. It looked like a krong  one of the small crafts the water masters used when they visited Laa Gui to catch fish for food. But unlike the water master’s vessels, it was bigger and longer, with tall spikes covered with wide stretches of cloth. 

In her dream, she would look back towards land and find that she was far from the shore, so far she could barely make it out. No one would hear if she yelled. She continued to tread water, watching the vessel move closer and closer, a dark, ominous feeling creeping over her as it did. When they were close, so close she could see figures moving aboard – figures that looked like men. She watched in horror as they released what looked like a huge spear, a spear attached to a chain. Slowly, they lowered it down the side of their vessel towards Gui’mbe and then just before it touched the waters, they released their grip so instead of breaking the surface gently, the spear pierced right through, it seemed, into Gui’mbe’s belly, the long chain to which it was attached allowing it to fall till it hit Laa Gui’s back with a thud.

The jolt of this thud usually woke Lem up from the dream, but not this time. 

This time, the piercing of Gui’mbe generated a ripple. This ripple grew into a wave which swept Lem away from the vessel, bearing her towards the village at a speed faster than she would ever have been able to swim. The wave deposited her on the shores where the water masters kept their krong and as it receded, flowing back into the depths from whence it came, Lem heard Laa Gui speak to her, the first of what would become many times.

“Naa mu fe nk’a, Lem. Naa mu Gui ben-ben. Naa mu shatani wi long pem.”

Warn them, Lem. Warn my children, quickly. Warn them their downfall is coming.